Sunday, 21 August 2011

Food, Hrana, Xabe

Next to music, food has been the most time consuming and interesting aspect of my time in Serbia. When you can't participate in conversation at the kitchen table, understand the news, or read the newspaper, food takes on a heightened importance as one of the best ways to make sense of where you are. Call it coincidence or etymological fate, but the commands 'eat, drink!' in Romanes is
'ha, pi!'  Happily, indeed.

In the month I've been in Valjevo, I have only eaten out twice. The rest of my meals have been prepared by my gracious hosts, so I'm pretty sure that my food-based judgments have some basis in reality. Going through my catalog of pictures over the past month I also realized that I did not take any photos of the foods that are the real staples here. I think I have eaten more tomatoes in the past 30 days than I have in my entire life up to this point. Fresh hot peppers garnish the table at EVERY meal. The ceramic salt tray even has a hole in which the pepper rests when it is not being ripped into. Canola or sunflower oil is a given.

So without further ado, some of my ingestive highs and lows over the past month.

Burek, I hate to love you. Made with a variety of fillings - meat, cheese, spinach, mushrooms, Burek hides its guts in an inflated swirl of filo dough. Often topped with sesame seeds and always heavy with oil saturation, most of the burek I have had here is golden brown on top and black on the bottom. 

Watermelon, aka Lubenica, is plentiful and cheap. Plentiful as in pick-up beds overflowing with them. Cheap as in 18 dinars per kilo - about 11 US cents per pound.

This is bread porridge, one of my arch-rivals of Serbian cuisine. It tastes, not surprisingly, like buttered bread. Unfortunately it has the texture of buttered bread that has already been fully chewed. When served piping hot it is glutenous and sticky. When it cools it could be used as grout. In the picture above it is combined with Kajmak, a very salty cheese-like substance of Turkish origin.

I was told several times that this stuff is good for stomach problems, such as hangovers or surgery. If you can get it past your mouth, maybe it's true.

My absolute favorite in Serbia, apple burek, made with apples from our front yard. Note the salt dish with the pepper-holding hole (no pepper pictured here). On the other side of the dish were black pepper would reside in the US, in Serbia there is more salt. Yin and Yin.

Fresh fruit from the front yard. Pears, apples, grapes, walnuts, raspberries, and plums, the mother of Serbian booze. Both Slivovitz and Rakiya are made distilled from plum wine, and home stills are common. The best one I had was sweet and warming, from an old guy Dusan knows. The worst one I had reminded me of the smell of model airplane glue.

For reasons I cannot understand, at all, 90 percent of the fruit here is left to rot on the ground. From what I can tell, canning, preserves, juicing, or fruit salad, is unheard of. Every day the grandmother here rounds up the apples that fell from the tree, puts them in a plastic bag, and places it in the trash.

Oink oink, we'll be pigs. I'm happy I'm not a vegetarian trying to find food in Serbia. Perhaps even more difficult than that is trying to eat Kosher, a concept which seems to be utterly untranslatable here for another American in the house.

A general store in a nearby Romani village. First time I've ever seen a balance in action.

Shopska Salad, tomatoes, cukes and salty cheese.

Two other unique dishes I did not get pictures of are Burania, a soup made from long, bisected bean pods, and Skanja (?) a hair-like byproduct of lard rendering. Tastes as delicious as it sounds.

And, I also must mention the joy of fresh sugary donuts with turkish coffee. No two are the same shape, all are delicious.

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